Led Zeppelin IV: Runes On The Board

By Christine Eliezer

The session for what became “Four Sticks” were hard going. Led Zeppelin, now selling out concerts around the world, wanted to stretch themselves on their fourth record. Frustrated, John Bomham grabbed a second pair of sticks and hit his kit with all four sticks to get the hard sound he wanted.

The session ground to a halt. To loosen the tension, Bomham mischievously kicked into the intro of Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly.” Jimmy Page started to play the riff and Robert Plant improvised the words. It was the “spontaneous combustion” (described Page) that marked Led Zeppelin IV. That jam fell in a heap after 12 bars. But the tape was running, and when Page went back to work on it realized there was something special. It became the album’s opener “Rock And Roll”. They brought in Rolling Stones collaborator Ian Stewart to play piano (uncredited). Another track cut around then with Stewart, “Boogie With Stu”, later saw light on Physical Graffiti.

Led Zeppelin IV turned Zeppelin from premier rock band to household names. It was a happy medium between the hard rock of the first two albums and the British folk that dominated Led Zeppelin III and led to scathing criticisms. Page agreed, “We were really playing properly as a group. I must say that when you had four musicians that were really without doubt at the top of their game there and they played really superbly as a band and that whole aspect took on a fifth element — this alchemy of it that was really ripe for creation.”

IV was recorded in four studios between December 1970 to March 1971. Sessions began in Island Records’ new Basing studios in London, where Jethro Tull were working on Aqualung. Fleetwood Mac suggested an old mansion called Headley Grange out in the wilds of Hampshire. Being out there gave them a sense of spontaneity and experimentalism to complement their studio discipline.

For “Battle of Evermore”, Page started to play John Paul Jones’ mandolin, although he’d never played one before. (He’d done that with the banjo on “Gallow’s Pole”). It came together in one sitting. The story was inspired by Plant’s love for the works of J.R.R. Tolkien (whose Return Of The King included a mystical Battle of Pelennor). Plant agrees the lyrics seem clichéd these days. “But I was only 23 at the time.” Sandy Denny of British folk band Fairport Convention played the Town Crier character to Plant’s Narrator.

With “Black Dog” John Paul Jones wanted an electric blues so complex that people could not dance to it. He imagined recording in 3/16 time but realised it would be then too difficult to reproduce live. Jones remembered, “We struggled with the turn-around, until Bonham figured out that you just four-time as if there’s no turn-around. That was the secret.” If you play it loud, you can hear Bonham tap his sticks together before each riff, to signal the band. Plant hit the highest note ever reached on a Zep cut. Page triple-tracked each line. The result was titled after the studio’s black Labrador which wandered in and out of the room during the sessions.

On “Misty Mountain Hop”, at the 2:11 mark, the band accidentally fell out of sync with one another. But they left it in.

The original “When The Levee Breaks” was written by husband-wife team Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie in 1927 was about the Great Mississippi Flood of that year which saw 13,000 people lose their homes. To get that menacing apocalyptic tone on their version, Zeppelin recorded at a different tempo then slowed it down. Bonham’s new Ludwig drums were recorded in a three-storey stairwell with the mics placed above on the second floor. Page’s production included backwards echoed harmonica, phased vocals and flanging — many of these not used before, Page claims.

“Stairway To Heaven”, of course, remains the high point, even if Page’s acoustic intro bears more of a passing resemblance to American band Spirit’s 1968 “Taurus”. Initially Page conceived his bits of guitar ideas would go for 15 minutes. Even if Bonham couldn’t get the timing right on the 12-string section before the solo, the rest of the song flowed out. As Page and Jones worked on the arrangement, the words poured out of Plant, many ideas coming from Lewis Spence’s Magic Arts In Celtic Britain which he’d been reading.

According to Page, “He must have written three quarters of the lyrics on the spot. He didn’t have to go away and think about them. Amazing, really.”

Page was asked if he realised they’d just made a classic track. “I knew it was good. I didn’t know it was going to become like an anthem, but I did know it was the gem of the album, sure.”

Angry with the critics’ response to III, Zeppelin wanted their new album to be released anonymously. No title, no band name on the cover, just four symbols chosen by each of the four. Atlantic Records went mad: this was against every rule in the marketing and sales book. But they had to agree. Plant found the 19th century rustic oil painting on the cover in an antique shop in Reading, Berkshire. The inside illustration “The Hermit”, credited to Barrington Colby MOM, was influenced by the design of the card in the Rider-Waite tarot deck. The typeface for “Stairway” lyrics came from the 19th century, which Page discovered.

Led Zeppelin IV went on to sell 32 million copies worldwide. It is also the third biggest selling record in America, where it sold 23 million. In 2006, it was rated #1 on Classic Rock magazine’s 100 Greatest British Albums poll; that same year it was voted #1 in Guitar World 100 Greatest Albums readers’ poll.

Hi Fidelity

If you are a Zeppelin fan there‘s a good chance that you first heard their recordings on vinyl. Thirty years ago Vinyl gave way to CD, and there are many, including the staff at Len Wallis Audio, who believes that sonically this was a backward step.

Recently we have witnessed the phenomena of MP3, driven by Apple and iTunes. While this has been a vast step forward in terms of convenience, and has opened up many new genres of music to a huge portion of the population, there is no argument that this has been at the expense of quality. For decades it appeared that we have been destined to advance technology, while at the same time reduce the quality of the music we were listening to. Thankfully – this is in the process of changing.

MP3 was a great idea, it took a huge cross section of music, way outside of the limited rotational top 40 selection offered by the commercial radio stations, and presented it effortlessly and inexpensively to a huge audience.

Suddenly we had access to an enormous musical smorgasbord where and when we wanted it. The restrictive factor at that time was that storage was limited and expensive, and bandwidth limitations meant that only small files could be easily accessed – hence the rise of compressed audio via MP3 files.

These restrictive factors no longer exist, storage is very inexpensive and internet bandwidth has greatly improved, and continues to do so. This has allowed a new breed of on-line music sources such as HDTracks.com and Linnrecords.com to spring up, which are offering music downloads that are not only the equal of CD, but in many cases, easily exceeding it. All of the advantages of MP3 are there, convenience, price (while these high resolution recordings cost more than MP3, they are still less expensive than the comparable CD), without the downside of inferior performance.

There are very strong rumours that even Apple are about to announce Hi-Resolution music downloads – again exceeding the quality of CD.

We believe that this is will usher in a new era of Hi-Fidelity listening. Many people have now adopted on-line music as a part of their listening regime but have accepted poor performance in favour of convenience. Now you can have both.

We are already seeing products enter the market designed to take advantage of this new format. One of the earliest and most versatile is a range of amplifiers from Peachtree. This is a product clearly designed for the modern era. They come complete with iPod docks which is not unusual, though what is unusual is they also incorporate a very high quality DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) to decode this high-resolution material. They feature a combination of digital and analogue inputs to take advantage of the new (digital) and the old (analogue) music delivery systems.

Is there a downside? Only one, and that is due to the concept Hi-Res online music still being in its infancy. The selection of music available for hi-res downloads is still limited, and is generally falls into the Classical, Jazz or back issues categories (alas – I cannot find any Led Zeppelin at this stage.)  This will change, and I predict that the change will be rapid. For the concept to really become mainstream it must appeal to mainstream listeners and cover artists such as Lady GaGa, Coldplay, Foo Fighters etc, none of who are available at this stage.

However, the times they are a changing.

By Len Wallis

Jeff Martin: The Song Remains The Same

Jeff Martin, ex-Tea Party frontman turned Aussie citizen, found his home on the road Down Under with his new three-piece and shares a wealth of guitar knowledge with Australian Guitar’s fellow Led Zeppelin enthusiast Craig White.

The Tea Party formed in Canada in the early-‘90s, and over the course of that decade became one of the most successful bands in that country. Now Canada is a country crawling with inventive and exciting musical acts that barely rate a mention outside of its own borders, and the Tea Party may well have become yet another assured ensemble enjoying a successful domestic career while not even registering a blip on the international radar. Worse yet, they might have hopped the bus for south of the border, where their intriguing blend of hard rock and world music could easily have been lost as it flew right over the heads of American youth hungry for yet another Nirvana.

Instead, a prescient manager who had spent time Down Under suggested they make their first international foray an antipodean excursion, where the band found an appreciative audience of fellow Commonwealth citizens. I begin my conversation with former Tea Party frontman Jeff Martin by asking whether he feels the historical ties between the two countries and a certain similarity in national character caused the band to resonate with Aussie audiences, which it definitely did, as they eventually toured this country a dozen times.

“Well, we put the hard yards in. We did something that a lot of international bands won’t do. When we first came over to Australia, we just did Sydney and Melbourne, and we did a month here. So we did one show in Sydney and one show in Melbourne the first week, in front of 25 people; the next week it doubled; the next week it tripled; so by the time we left that month, we were playing in front of 800 people. Then Triple J got on board, and the rest is history.”

Jeff now lives in Australia. The Tea Party disbanded in 2004 (though they are reuniting for some festivals in the Canadian summer), and after a spell in Ireland, Jeff and his Australian wife settled in Perth, adding a son named Django to the mix. Jeff has pursued several musical avenues since the demise of the Tea Party, the most recent of which is 777, with former Sleepy Jackson members Jay Cortez and Malcolm Clark.

Martin has always been regarded as something of a gun guitarist, particularly as the Tea Party first came to prominence during a period when instrumental chops were not necessarily fashionable.

“I mean this with all humility, but I don’t know many guitarists in rock music who push it as far as I do with the tunings and the tonalities. I basically took a page out of Jimmy Page, and I ran with it.”

Alright then, the elephant in the room is now definitely out of the bag (if I might be allowed to mix my metaphors), so best that we discuss it. The Tea Party spiced their hard rock with Indian, Middle Eastern and North African elements in a manner that was dubbed “Moroccan Roll” by witty commentators, while less than appreciative scribes simply pointed at a perceived similarity to the manner in which Led Zeppelin incorporated folk and world music elements.

While Jeff accepts that not all were fans of his former band (“what the Tea Party did was we polarised; you either loved us or you didn’t like us at all, there was nothing really in between”) and that therefore there might be motivation for mockingly over-stating the influence, he does not go out of his way to avoid the comparisons, and our conversation is peppered with references to Page and Led Zeppelin.

Furthermore, throughout our discussion of gear there are mentions of particular pieces and modifications that any Page fan will instantly recognise. For example, there’s “a little Supro that I use all the time, for just really precise tones and all that”.

Like Jimmy Page’s?

“Mine’s a little older though. It’s not actually a Supro, it’s just Jensen Speaker Company.”

Similarly talk turns to Danelectros. Now, they sold a ton of these guitars back in the day and to suggest that simply using a Danelectro indicates Page fetishism would be going too far, however there is a particular bridge replacement that suggests Jimmy as the inspiration.

“There’s some work you can do to Danelectros, like to get them shielded properly, because they can be the greatest radio antennas in the world, but there’s a way of shielding the guitars inside. Then you put the Badass bridge on, and you get better tuning pegs and it stays in tune, because I use a lot of sort of drop C tuning on the Danelectro, so I’ve got to put heavier gauge strings on it, but when it’s tight and it’s locked in, it’s an amazing guitar.”

Now, for guitarists of a certain vintage, it would be odd not to be massively influenced by Jimmy Page, and I certainly count myself as one of them. After all, whose ears are the ones pricking up at the mention of Supro amplifiers and Danelectros with Badass bridges? So when Jeff mentions the Danelectro, I know before I ask which model it is, but I go ahead and ask anyway.

“I have got the double cutaway, two pick-up one.”

I knew it! While we are mining the Jimmy Page vein, there is also talk of double neck SGs, however when conversation turns to Les Pauls, I am surprised by Jeff’s stated preference.

“I’m a big fan, especially for recording, of the low impedance Gibsons; the Recording, the Professional and the Personal. I’ve always had a Recording model; it’s beautiful. When I acquired my Recording model, I sent it to Les Paul’s technician, who I met in Manhattan, when Les was playing at Fat Tuesdays. He rewired the guitar to the schematic, and then some, so all those tonal variations started coming out of the guitar. It was just beautiful. That was the first one I fell in love with. I fell in love with those guitars, so much so that I wanted to get the other two that complete the range, so I got the Personal and I got the Professional. I’ve got the holy trinity of low impedance Gibson guitars.”

I ask Jeff if the Recording model plays like a regular Les Paul.

“It feels like a Standard, the neck feels like a Standard, but the sound, and the way that you play it, is a very different approach. It’s a guitar meant for very precise parts, it’s not a guitar you are going to wash out with distortion or overdrive or whatever. It’s not that sort of guitar; it’s for more of the ethereal, ambient element that you can achieve in rock’n’roll music. I love that guitar. A lot of people, when they got these low impedance guitars in the ‘70s, and they tried to play them on stage, they tried to do the rock’n’roll thing. Well, they weren’t a rock’n’roll guitar, they were more of a jazz guitar. The ’71 Recording model should have been the guitar that came out in the ‘50s, the original Les Paul, but Gibson took a look at the schematic and said, ‘no way’.”

Now, Jimmy Page has a Recording model himself (as can be ascertained by consulting the exhaustive equipment list at www.led-zeppelin.org), however it is not a guitar with which he is readily identified, so I ask Jeff how it was that he discovered the low impedance Les Pauls.

“It was something that I just dove into, because I kept wanting to expand the tonality of my guitar playing, and what my options were. It was an old jazz guy in Montreal actually who turned me on to these guitars. He had one. It wasn’t wired properly, but he did have one. I played it and fell in love with it. This was ’95 or something. I went and found one immediately. It wasn’t hard to find, although there aren’t many of them around, but it didn’t cost me an arm and a leg, that’s for sure. I think I bought it for like eight hundred dollars or something like that.”

While there is no doubt that Martin rocks out when required, he is a multi-faceted player, as likely to be found laying down 12-string guitar or oud or some alternate tuning in the interest of creating texture and instrumental depth. It is a quality that has been consistent throughout his career, and one that he brings to 777 with as much enthusiasm and creativity as any project he has undertaken in the past.

“The thing that I wanted to do was a modern day version of Houses Of The Holy, and I think we achieved that with this record. That’s what always impressed me, that’s what I fell in love with, when you got to those records, when you got away from the blues-rock and you got to those records, like Houses Of The Holy or Physical Graffiti. There were so many style variations, but you could tell it was the same band, all the way through.”

“It’s the same with what we’ve achieved with 777. Malcolm’s drumming is very, very Malcolm Clark, yet there’s a lot of influences – John Bonham, Keith Moon, Animal from the Muppets. Jay Cortez is just a master multi-instrumentalist, and his bass playing is just so gorgeous and melodic. What it’s allowed me to do is, for the first time since the halcyon days of the Tea Party, I’ve got a rhythm section behind me that is so just anchored, and because of their relationship, and they’ve known each other for so many years, there’s a telekinesis going on between the two of them, where I don’t have to think about it.”

Being another three-piece, 777 is not ploughing an entirely different field from that which the Tea Party worked. While doubters once spoke of similarities to Led Zeppelin, contemporary naysayers have made the accusation that the new album sounds a lot like a Tea Party record.

“What people need to understand is that I wrote all the songs with the Tea Party, so what I did was very similar to what I’ve done with Mal and Jay. What I did with Jeff and Stuart (in the Tea Party) was I brought the songs to them and then the three of us composed them up together. So they offered their own individual personalities, Jeff’s drum style, Stuart’s bass styling and all that. Mal and Jay are very different musicians, but the music that I write lends itself to people like doing sort of almost the same thing. To a certain extent, the song remains the same.”

(Article originally featured in Issue #86 of Australian Guitar Magazine)

Led Zeppelin IV: Runes On The Board

The session for what became Four Sticks was hard going. Led Zeppelin, now selling out concerts around the world, wanted to stretch themselves on their fourth record. Frustrated, John Bomham grabbed a second pair of sticks and hit his kit with all four sticks to get the hard sound he wanted.

The session ground to a halt. To loosen the tension, Bomham mischievously kicked into the intro of Little Richard’s Good Golly Miss Molly. Jimmy Page started to play the riff and Robert Plant improvised the words. It was the “spontaneous combustion” (described Page) that marked Led Zeppelin IV. That jam fell in a heap after 12 bars. But the tape was running, and when Page went back to work on it he realised there was something special. It became the album’s opener Rock And Roll. They brought in Rolling Stones collaborator Ian Stewart to play piano (uncredited). Another track cut around then with Stewart, Boogie With Stu, later saw light on Physical Graffiti.

Led Zeppelin IV turned Zeppelin from premier rock band to household names. It was a happy medium between the hard rock of the first two albums and the British folk that dominated Led Zeppelin III and led to scathing criticisms. Page agreed, “We were really playing properly as a group. I must say that when you had four musicians that were really without doubt at the top of their game there and they played really superbly as a band and that whole aspect took on a fifth element — this alchemy of it that was really ripe for creation.”

IV was recorded in four studios between December 1970 to March 1971. Sessions began in Island Records’ new Basing studios in London, where Jethro Tull were working on Aqualung. Fleetwood Mac suggested an old mansion called Headley Grange out in the wilds of Hampshire. Being out there gave them a sense of spontaneity and experimentalism to complement their studio discipline.

For Battle of Evermore, Page started to play John Paul Jones’ mandolin, although he’d never played one before. (He’d done the same with the banjo on Gallow’s Pole). It came together in one sitting. The story was inspired by Plant’s love for the works of J.R.R. Tolkien (whose Return Of The King included a mystical ’Battle of Pelennor’). Plant agrees the lyrics seem clichéd these days. “But I was only 23 at the time.” Sandy Denny of British folk band Fairport Convention played the Town Crier character to Plant’s Narrator.

With Black Dog John Paul Jones wanted an electric blues so complex that people could not dance to it. He imagined recording in 3/16 time but realised it would be then too difficult to reproduce live. Jones remembered, “We struggled with the turn-around, until Bonham figured out that you just four-time as if there’s no turn-around. That was the secret.” If you play it loud, you can hear Bonham tap his sticks together before each riff, to signal the band.

Plant hit the highest note ever reached on a Zep cut. Page triple-tracked each line. The result was titled after the studio’s black Labrador which wandered in and out of the room during the sessions.

On Misty Mountain Hop, at the 2:11 mark, the band accidentally fell out of sync with one another. But they left it in.

The original When The Levee Breaks was written by husband-wife team Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie in 1927 about the Great Mississippi Flood of that year which saw 13,000 people lose their homes. To get that menacing apocalyptic tone on their version, Zeppelin recorded at a different tempo then slowed it down. Bonham’s new Ludwig drums were recorded in a three-storey stairwell with the mics placed above on the second floor. Page’s production included backwards echoed harmonica, phased vocals and flanging — many of these not used before, Page claims.

Stairway To Heaven, of course, remains the high point, even if Page’s acoustic intro bears more of a passing resemblance to American band Spirit’s 1968 Taurus. Initially Page conceived his bits of guitar ideas would go for 15 minutes. Even if Bonham couldn’t get the timing right on the 12-string section before the solo, the rest of the song flowed out. As Page and Jones worked on the arrangement, the words poured out of Plant, many ideas coming from Lewis Spence’s Magic Arts In Celtic Britain which he’d been reading.

According to Page, “He must have written three quarters of the lyrics on the spot. He didn’t have to go away and think about them. Amazing, really.”

Page was asked if he realised they’d just made a classic track. “I knew it was good. I didn’t know it was going to become like an anthem, but I did know it was the gem of the album, sure.”

Angry with the critics’ response to III, Zeppelin wanted their new album to be released anonymously. No title, no band name on the cover, just four symbols chosen by each of the four. Atlantic Records went mad: this was against every rule in the marketing and sales book. But they had to agree. Plant found the 19th century rustic oil painting on the cover in an antique shop in Reading, Berkshire. The inside illustration The Hermit, credited to Barrington Colby mom, was influenced by the design of the card in the Rider-Waite tarot deck. The typeface for Stairway lyrics came from the 19th century, which Page discovered.

Led Zeppelin IV went on to sell 32 million copies worldwide. It is also the third biggest selling record in America, where it sold 23 million. In 2006, it was rated #1 on Classic Rock magazine’s 100 Greatest British Albums poll; that same year it was voted #1 in Guitar World 100 Greatest Albums readers’ poll.

By Christie Eliezer

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